The term “hazing” gives a negative connotation to the greek community — especially at Cal Poly. Carson Starkey died in 2008 because of a preventable hazing situation, and his memory reminds the Cal Poly community why it’s important to adhere to the rules.
“I don’t think that the hazing culture is anything near to what it was in 2008,” said Diego Silva, former coordinator of fraternity and sorority life. “I think that the issues that we come across are minimal, or hazing with a little ‘h’ as opposed to hazing with a big ‘H’.”
Cal Poly has implemented strict policies in conjunction with California Penal Code Section 245.6 to combat future dangers as a result of college hazing.
“I don’t think that the hazing culture is anything near to what it was in 2008. I think that the issues that we come across are minimal, or hazing with a little ‘h’ as opposed to hazing with a big ‘H.’”
— Diego Silva, former coordinator of fraternity and sorority life
Big ‘H,’ little ‘h’
“As a university, whenever we hear about anything that comes across our desk, we do a thorough follow up,” Silva said.
According to Silva, large-scale hazing, or big-‘H’ hazing situations, would be cases such as “forcing new members to consume certain amounts of alcohol or do something that really puts them in a direct line of physical, emotional or mental danger.”
Little-‘h’ hazing, or smaller-scale activities, are activities that put new members in a situation where they have to “do something they otherwise would not normally do in day-to-day life, but has more implied risks and indirect situations that come out of it,” Silva said.
Silva said little-‘h’ activities could include scavenger hunts or making members wear the same color on campus.
He said these can be “tell-tale signs of potentially other bigger problems, but they’re not things that are causing an immediate or direct harm to the individual.”
According to the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities policy on hazing, “Hazing refers to any activity that causes physical or emotional harm, degradation, or humiliation during initiation into a student organization.”
Hazing is most commonly associated with binge drinking, but in actuality, the Cal Poly policy on hazing includes a very wide variety of activities, including “binge drinking, sexual harassment and assault, ridicule, sleep or food deprivation, personal servitude, physical beatings, embarrassing outfits or actions in public, or water intoxication.”
The foundation of Cal Poly’s no-hazing policy is California Penal Code Section 245.6, which states, “’hazing’ means any method of initiation or pre-initiation into a student organization or student body, whether or not the organization or body is officially recognized by an educational institution, which is likely to cause serious bodily injury to any former, current, or prospective student of any school, community college, college, university, or other educational institution in this state.”
The code, however, does not mention little-‘h’ hazing restrictions — as defined by Silva — but focuses more on what Silva considers big ‘H’ hazing, or hazing that would put students in a direct line of physical, emotional or mental danger.
For Cal Poly, it’s the university’s job to to define what hazing means to its community.
The greek community
Cal Poly’s Student Life and Leadership Greek Life No Hazing Policy mirrors the policy stated by the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities — helping to maintain a clear understanding of the policy both on and off campus.
To prevent hazing, the greek community has been working with the Cal Poly administration to establish rules as part of the compromise to end deferred recruitment for the Interfraternity Council (IFC).
“We’ve taken a more organized and thoughtful approach towards greek life,” Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong said. “Recently, through a discussion that was talking with the greek community, a whole series of rules have been put into place and they will be phased in over the next couple of years.”
IFC President Domenic Hjerpe said the series of rules are a tiered compromise, which begins with a full risk-management policy for the entire greek system that was established this year.
These rules will also require greek organizations to register off-campus parties, adopt new alcohol-management policies and provide hazing, alcohol and sexual assault awareness education to new members, Mustang News reported in September.
“I think it will definitely improve the greek community because it will help keep everything under wraps and definitely safer,” Hjerpe said.
Aware Awake Alive
In addition to these rules and the hazing policies already in place, Aware Awake Alive — a non-profit organization geared toward the prevention of alcohol poisoning through education — was created by Julia and Scott Starkey, Carson’s parents, to aid in hazing prevention.
“I think Aware Awake Alive has had a tremendous impact on this campus,” Armstrong said. “The students have embraced Aware Awake Alive, they’ve embraced Carson’s memory, and they’ve made it work.”
Aware Awake Alive was created in August of 2011 and continues to shape hazing intervention at Cal Poly.
“I really believe there have been lives saved at Cal Poly because of Aware Awake Alive,” Armstrong said.